In our office, a “TLA” is our tongue-in-cheek acronym for “Three Letter Acronyms.”   Every industry, market and even hobby has acronyms.  And that is typically okay as long as everyone in the conversation knows them.  In fact, sometimes it can be very important to know a highly specific language.  I don’t need to know all the language of a surgeon, but I’m glad they have a specialized language that helps them to be efficient.

MazeA common problem I see is how many people frequently use acronyms when talking (or writing) with people that don’t know them!  It turns a message into a confusing maze for the listener.

If the speaker or writer is aware of (and cares about) their audience’s background, they will know this type of language is anywhere from confusing to counter-productive to just plain stupid (assuming the point really is to effectively communicate).

People use their own specialized language for all audiences for a number of reasons:

  • They fail to consider the audience.
  • They misunderstand the audience.
  • They don’t care about the audience.
  • They want to look smart.
  • They are lazy.

What this use of confusing language does not do is make someone look smart.  Well, let me rephrase this.  It does not make them look smart to the smart people.  Those with low self-esteem or that adore the speaker may think this “looks” smart, even if they can’t understand the message.

To communicate effectively, remember to consider your audience and speak/write accordingly.  The goal is to communicate a message and the better you do that, the more successful you will be in business (and life).

If your audience knows your language of acronyms, then the acronyms can help you be efficient in your discussion.  This is common in work with specialised expertise.  And with text messages, Twitter and other forms of fast, short messaging.  IF your audience knows the same language, including short-hand and acronyms.

However,  if you want the audience (even an audience of one) to understand and appreciate your message, remember to “speak the language of the audience.”

Glenn S. Phillips is the author of Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself. His website,, will lead you to more information about effective communication training, risk assessments and genuinely helpful tips. You can email Glenn directly

© 2012 All Rights Reserved.  Glenn S. Phillips and Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.